The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2016

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SEPT 2016 Issue
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The Academy in Peril

I undertake my philosophical endeavors outside the university. As everyone knows, philosophy has for two centuries been the university’s private game preserve, and that, except for a mere dozen names, all philosophers of note have been professors: that is, civil servants. Philosophy since Kant has essentially become philosophical commentary, the philosophy of philosophy. It has since then addressed no one but philosophers themselves, in what I call the modern esotericism of philosophy. Only recently have I realized that now, for the first time since Marx and Nietzsche, it is possible to break from modern philosophy’s esoteric style and once more propose, exoterically, a complete philosophical system. Transgression and the Inexistent, published in English, lays out the premises for just such a departure from esotericism, which I will be completing over the next two years.

The second way I include myself by exclusion in the contemporary landscape and exclude myself by inclusion from it has to do with my position on two thinkers behind the most remarkable philosophical “Revolution” of the past few decades (the “speculative turn”): Badiou and Meillassoux.

As much as anyone else, I feel the influence of the philosophies associated with these two names, but here again I find myself in the countercurrent. What the “speculative realists” and other “new realists” have retained of Meillassoux’s contribution is, first of all, its “anti-correlationism,” which allows them to “return to things in themselves.” That is, to produce “positive ontologies.” For me “anti-correlationism” is a brilliant but somewhat secondary demonstration by comparison with Meillassoux’s true revolution in the history of philosophy: the demonstration of the necessity of contingence. And it is precisely upon this revolution that I, unlike the tenants of “ontological realisms,” base my own endeavor, though from this metaphysical “basis” of the absolute contingency of all things I draw wholly different consequences from those of Meillassoux himself.

It is, of course, to Badiou and not to Meillassoux, that we owe the true “revolutionary” impulse behind the “anti-correlational” return to “ontological realism.” Not only did he allow all the rising names of the contemporary landscape to return to “ontological naïveté,” despite two centuries of correlational ontologies (Hegel, Husserl, Deleuze) and especially of ontological critique (Kant, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, et al.), but all of these ontologies are derived fromBadiou. This is true of Garcia’s thing-oriented set-theorism, of Harman’s object-oriented correlationism, of Gabriel’s “The world does not exist “ (which is what Badiou’s two magnum opuses had demonstrated), of Brassier’s “ontological nihilism,” and so on.

Here again, exclusive inclusion and inclusive exclusion. Somewhat as with Meillassoux, I retain from Badiou what almost no one else retains, and reject out of hand absolutely everything, whether “mainstream” or “elitist,” that others seem to swallow, no questions asked. In terms of the mainstream I reject out of hand everything that Badiou means to “propose” to humanity in terms of political and ethical “destiny.” The same goes for his views on sexual ethics and art. The “elitist” material is, of course, the ontological revival, which has spawned so many imitators. I have, however, demonstrated that the hypothesized strict equivalence between ontology and mathematics is quite simply false. I have especially shown that if mathematics were not ontology, then no ontology whatsoever would be possible. This could not be further from the conclusions of all the “new realisms.”

I retain from Badiou the most important thing, to which no one yet has paid any heed: his concept of truth, the most substantial such concept to appear in philosophy since Heidegger. But I make wholly different use of it, and for good reason: my work has long consisted of a rigorous deconstruction of all of Badiou’s great constructions. This deconstruction, however, has not led to pure and simple destruction, compelling us to wade forever more through a bog of conceptual ruins (the great Heidegger-Derrida axis). Rather, it has led specifically to a systematic reconstruction: to a new system, which owes nothing to the deconstruction on which it was erected.

Thanks to the Badiou-Meillassoux impetus, many a philosopher in the current landscape has laid claim to the term “system”—erroneously, to my eye, in most, if not all, cases. It seems to me that a philosophical system must meet at least two criteria: (1) all of its elements must be logically linked, and account for one another with complete coherence no matter where we start our examination; (2) it must take an entirely new perspective on all anthropological, techno-scientific, erotic, aesthetic, ethico-political, legislative-transgressive experience. None of today’s self-proclaimed “systems” meet these criteria, and it is from this impasse that my work seeks to emerge. So far it has managed to emerge esoterically; soon, I hope, it will emerge exoterically as well.


Mehdi Belhaj Kacem

MEHDI BELHAJ KACEM is a philosopher and writer. He is the author of a dozen books, including, in English, Transgression and the Inexistent: A Philosophical Vocabulary (Bloomsbury, 2014).


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2016

All Issues